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CPS brass considers school consolidation

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Despite promises last year of giving schools an early heads-up about school actions, Chicago Public School leaders are actively discussing consolidating schools this year, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

At least 10 schools are under discussion for consolidation proposals that could be announced as early as this week, sources said.

Such a move could infuriate aldermen, who complained vehemently in January 2010 that former Schools CEO Ron Huberman had given them 11th-hour notice of plans to close or consolidate schools in their wards. Afterward, Huberman promised to reach out to targeted communities the summer before CPS took any school actions and unveiled a “Student Bill of Rights” governing future school actions.

Proposed closings or consolidations, in which one school is folded into the building of another school because at least one of them is underused, are traditionally approved in January and followed by public hearings. Such proposals usually trigger volatile debates.

However, Interim CEO Terry Mazany has said Huberman did not leave him a school closing list before his Nov. 29 departure.

“I inherited a situation in which school closings were not teed up,” Mazany told the Sun-Times recently. But Mazany also noted that for 10 to 15 schools that are under capacity, “there’s no other logic but to close them down and consolidate schools.” Another 10 to 15 are seriously underused, he said.

The action comes just after the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force unveiled preliminary recommendations that CPS publicly release school action plans at least six months before finalizing them.

The task force co-chair, state Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago), said she met with Mazany last week to discuss the consolidations. They include plans to consolidate Schneider Elementary into Jahn Elementary, Carpenter Elementary into Talcott Elementary, Andersen Community Academy into LaSalle Magnet and Avondale Elementary into Logandale Middle, she said.

“There will be plenty of time for the affected communities to have their say,” she added.

Another action being discussed is moving Cather Elementary into Beidler Elementary, sources said.

Principals at some of the affected schools hadn’t been informed of the plans as of Sunday. Carpenter principal Duane Pitts Sr. said his school was marked for closure three years ago but he wasn’t aware of any consolidation plans. LaSalle principal Suzanne Velasquez also said she had heard nothing about the proposed merger with Andersen, which was the unsuccessful target for a phased closure in 2008.

The discussion comes as Andrew Broy, head of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, complained that one dozen to 18 charter schools that share buildings with traditional public schools “are on the cusp of outgrowing their facilities and need a solution.” Consolidating an underused school into another school would theoretically free up a building for a charter.

Mazany said he favored a one-year moratorium on new charter operators until facilities could be identified over the summer and fall for existing “high performing charters.”

Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel is a charter proponent and has packed his education transition team with charter operators, funders and supporters.

Contributing: Kim Janssen

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